I sat in on a rehearsal of the New Horizons Band one Monday afternoon at The Church on College Station. The acoustics were great. The people were even better. I met a former Redcoat Band Leader. I met an 87-year-old clarinetist actively planning a vacation to Bhutan. I met a few musicians who had put down their instruments 30 or 40 years ago and only recently had picked them back up again. New Horizons is about inclusion and socializing. It’s about the music and everyone’s musical potential. Everything else is secondary.
About half of them have a story that begins: “I put down my trombone for forty years, and never thought I’d pick it up again…until.” A few of them just decided that, in retirement, they’d always wanted to learn how to play the flute and now there’s time. They’ve got some talent or desire. They’ve got lots of drive. They’ve got rhythm. They’ve got music. And honestly, who could ask for anything more?
There are also those with no musical experience at all or those who were made to feel unmusical, either by parents or music teachers. These folks need encouragement and some lessons. And that’s what New Horizons Bands and Orchestras at the UGA Community Music School can provide. New Horizons is an international organization but here in Athens, it seems to resonate especially well.
Like any musical group, New Horizons (subtitled “ensembles for beginning adults”) is not divided by age, or even by the number of hours spent practicing. It is, however, to an extent, divided by skill level. You must be proficient enough to rehearse and play with the group. However, if you want to join New Horizons and you’ve never touched an instrument before, you can. You start with individual lessons. Total novices can take personalized lessons each semester, and join the band or not; typically, the ensembles can integrate one new beginner at a time.
Kristin Jutras, director of the Community Music School, listed the excuses she hears and refutes each one: “I don’t have enough musical talent.” – “Yes, you do, or, if you really don’t, we’ll give you lessons.” Or, “I sold my flute at a yard sale twenty years ago.”– “You can rent an instrument at Chick Music downtown. It’s pretty cheap.” “I don’t want to play that electronic nonsense I hear on the radio.”– “Don’t worry. We play real music for real people.”
The band and orchestra play at a lot of assisted living facilities and most of the members told me a similar tale, a tale of the power of music. The story goes like this – They go and set up at an assisted living facility. They’re tuning their instruments, setting up their music stands and scanning the audience. At first the audience looks listless, not necessarily completely aware of their surroundings. And then the band begins to play. Old, familiar tunes, like the bleating horns and jazzy rhythms of Glenn Miller, begin to ring out, echoing off the walls. A man who couldn’t communicate a few minutes ago begins to tap his feet. A woman with mild dementia begins to slap her hand on her thigh. A few people stand up and dance. The potent mixture of music and nostalgia can lift people up and transport them to a place they hadn’t visited in decades. As the New Horizons philosophy points out: “Making music is a way of making vital connections to life.”
A typical set includes such favorites as Danny Boy and Tennessee Waltz to Rock Around the Clock and Louie, Louie (really!) It’s a versatile group.
There is a lot of research being conducted on music and aging, nearly 40 studies are listed at the New Horizons website. Peter Justras, associate director for research and graduate studies at the Hodgson School of Music, authored one with 1,823 participants. It rated the existence and importance of 42 potential benefits organized into four categories: Health, Personal, Skill, and Social/Cultural. The highest number of responses with highest ratings included accomplishment, play/fun, new friends, skill refinement, and challenge. These responses were much higher than a similar study of adult piano students, suggesting, that while participants are interested in musical improvement, they also place high value on personal and social benefits of the experience.
New beginners are welcome any time, and rehearsals are open for observation. Contact the Community Music School at: firstname.lastname@example.org
$75 per semester for the New Horizons Band
$95 per semester for the Orchestra
$75 per a semester for private music lessons
$110 for piano lessons
Free Christmas Concert
The New Horizons Band will be playing at the state Botanical Garden on Dec. 8, 2 p.m.